WEEKEND WEB: Boat Race rolls back the years

Trish at The Boat Race on the Thames.
Trish at The Boat Race on the Thames.
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TRISH TAKES FIVE: By blogger Trish Burgess

I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad in the last couple of weeks. Stephen Hawking dying of Motor Neurone Disease brought my father’s life and death into sharp focus.

The day after Professor Hawking died, I had a planned trip to Cambridge. I decided, as I was in the city, to sign the Book of Condolence at Gonville and Caius College. What began as a thoughtful, solemn act became rather surreal as I was photographed signing the book by a German 
reporter and then interviewed for the Chinese News Agency, Xinhua.

I chuckled to myself thinking Dad would have enjoyed hearing such a tale and how strange that I happened to be in Cambridge on that day.

Dad continued to sit on my shoulder last weekend. Despite my own forays into rowing whilst at university, I’d never attended the Boat Race. I’m not entirely sure why I jumped on an email I received a few months ago, inviting alumni to buy tickets to support the Light Blues from the comfort of a grand paddle steamer on the Thames.

I scrabbled about in the wardrobe hunting for my old college scarf. It didn’t look too worse for wear, considering it was 35 years old. It certainly kept the chill off me as we sauntered over Putney Bridge on Saturday afternoon.

We boarded PS Elizabethan as the crowds were building on each side of the river, spilling out of pubs and enjoying the buzz of the event. The Cambridge alumni crowd were a mix of former sportsmen; families with toddlers; and plenty of people like Dougie and me, keen to enjoy a few glasses of Prosecco and a delicious afternoon tea.

We went on deck to catch the start of each race, watched as they sped past us then piled back inside to see the remainder on the TV screens.

As we walked about on the boat, glass in hand, a tall, 
distinguished chap clocked my attire and said: “Ah, good to see an Emmanuel scarf!”

I laughed and stopped to say hello. It was then I noticed his name badge: David Buck, Emmanuel, 1954. I knew who he was: an old college friend of my father. I’d never met him but I knew they had last met 28 years ago. I had also been at university with his son.

We were soon reminiscing and summarising our lives, trying to squash decades of news into a few snatched moments. What struck me was how like my dad he was. I felt my father’s own cheerfulness and warmth reflected in this friendly, personable gentleman. As all four Cambridge crews trounced the opposition, I knew I’d picked the best year to show my support in person. But to bump into my dad’s university pal was another example of fate taking a hand at just the right moment.

• You can read Trish’s blog at www.mumsgoneto.co.uk

Previously...

Uncovering history from the depths of the sea